SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The signing of the “Help Not Harm” bill has been years in the making in the South Dakota Legislature.
Bills to prohibit certain types of care for transgender youth were filed in 2019, 2020 and 2021 but the legislation failed to make it to the governor’s desk. This year, HB 1080 passed through the legislature and to the governor’s desk less than a month after being filed.
“I am grateful for the strong coalition that we have built over the past [three] years,” Republican Representative Bethany Soye told KELOLAND News via email. “This coalition is what ultimately led to our success this year.”
For Susan Williams, executive director of the Transformation Project, the legislative process on this piece of legislation was “unheard of.”
“This bill was an agenda that was pushed through as quickly as possible and made into law,” Williams said.
Williams said that in the week since the passage of the bill, and the days following Governor Kristi Noem’s signature, her organization has been hearing from concerned parents of transgender children in South Dakota.
“I’m hearing panicked parents asking if they are going to need to relocate if they are going to be able to find care in another state,” Williams said. She said that some families are looking into whether they can access care outside of South Dakota through their insurance without having to relocate.
Soye said that she chose not to include an emergency clause on the bill, which would have made the law go into effect immediately after receiving the governor’s signature.
“We chose instead to go with the standard July 1st enactment date,” Soye wrote. “We want children who are currently taking these drugs to have a sufficient amount of time to wean off the drugs and find alternative treatment options. These children have until Dec 31, 2023 to do so.”
By providing time for children to end their care, Soye said that there will be fewer “long term negative effects.”
When asked about families considering leaving the state, Soye said that she’s heard from families here that are thankful for the bill and there are also families who will choose to move to South Dakota because of the new law.
“I have personally heard from a family who moved here from Oregon and is very happy to see the bill pass,” Soye said.
For the impacted families, Williams said that since 2016 anti-transgender legislation proposed by South Dakota lawmakers has felt like a target on the back of the community.
“[The transgender community is] wondering if it’s worth it to try and make it, to try to make change and help people become more accepting and more affirming or if it would just be better to live in a space place where they are accepted,” Williams said.
The failure of two amendments in the Senate before the passage of the bill was “heartbreaking” for Williams.
“They didn’t want it to change in any way, shape, or form and I think one of the most gut-wrenching things was to hear them vote down the Medicaid [amendment],” Williams said.
Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba proposed an amendment to the bill to expand Medicaid coverage to include mental health care for gender dysphoria which is not currently offered. Opponents of the amendment called it an “unfunded mandate.”
“You know, they say that this bill was to help not harm but if they really wanted to help the kids that are struggling… they never would have brought this bill, but they would have passed that amendment to give kids on Medicaid the coverage that they need to get mental health support,” Williams said. “It really showed me that they do not care about kids, that this is completely this is something completely different.”
Finding support in the aftermath
Following the passage of HB 1080 through the Legislature, The Transformation Project, American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, Sioux Falls Pride and other organizations hosted four protests across the state to show support for the transgender community. The rallies had over 400 people in attendance in Brookings, Rapid City, Sioux Falls and Vermillion.
“I was very grateful to see such a strong showing of support on a cold January morning,” Williams said. “And, you know, people afterwards stayed for the legislative caucuses and talk to their legislators and really, you know, ask the tough questions.”
The organization is also partnering with the online mental health service Better Help to provide 50 vouchers for free therapy for those that are being impacted by the bill’s passage.
“We’ve got several support groups going and family for instance, tomorrow night, we have a family bowling night for families with trans kids to just be together and to gain strength from just being around each other,” Williams said.
Outreach extends beyond Sioux Falls, Williams added.
“Trans people have always exited and they’re scattered throughout South Dakota. Some rural, some small towns, some in the bigger cities,” Williams said. “And so, we’re just trying to let everybody know that we’re here to make sure that they get the support that they need and get the resources that they need throughout the entire state.”